Last Halloween, we were preparing for Election Day in the midst of much racial tension surrounding then-nominee Barack Obama. Here's Meera Bowman-Johnson's article, reprinted below, on the top five costumes that she doesn't want to see at her door.
Halloween has crept upon us and this year, I'm more afraid than ever before. After all, this is no ordinary All Hallows Eve: It's Halloween in the age of Obama. Scarier to me than any ghoul, goblin or woman with a black eye and a backwards "B" on her face, I'm scared of how some people may use the occasion to express their political views. And what certain costumes might imply about the outcome of this year's election. After all, on what other occasion can a person wear their racial politics on their sleeve without fear of serious repercussions?
Now of course, this is a free country, and people have the right to adorn themselves however they see fit (or forego costumes and candy altogether).
But tonight in particular, I'm going to be eyeballing certain get-ups with a little more scrutiny than the ghosts of Halloween past. These are the top five Halloween costumes that are guaranteed to give me pause this year. Some make my skin crawl just a little more than others:
Not on Halloween; not ever.
1. Blackface. I know it's hard for certain folks to stay away from this one. After all, it's just too easy. College students across the country have made that clear with the popularity of gangster parties. Self tanner and cosmetics have replaced Al Jolsen's shoe polish allowing for more accurate simulations of the modern Negro. But almost more disconcerting than the shoe polish and/or self tanner itself is the choice of get-ups that often accompany the faux skin tones. And from Aunt Jemima to Young Jeezy, the costume options to rock with blackface are unlimited. Regardless, it makes my blood boil. You'd think that a white guy would think twice about walking into a bar in blackface, a grass skirt and a bone through his nose. But for the record, dude, it's not funny.
Baby Baracks beware of which doors you knock on.
2. Baby Barack Obamas. I'm not as afraid of this costume as I am of the people it might offend. Without a doubt, there will be a myriad of Halloween presidential hopefuls storming the subdivisions this evening, hoping to earn as many treats in one evening as Obama himself earned in donations last month. I just hope that before they march up those manicured lawns, mom and dad sniff out the territory. If there's a McCain-Palin sign on the front lawn, by all means ring the bell (those Republicans might have good candy). Just realize that more than one Obama Mini-Me might be more than the average, undecided candy giver can handle in one evening, let alone the next four years. And by all means, put a flag pin on the boy's lapel. Just in case.
Am I scared of seeing Palin lookalikes? You betcha!
3. Mrs. Hockey Mom and Mr. Joe The Plumber. Whether she's wearing an anorak from her favorite Anchorage consignment shop or a designer suit from Saks, you betcha Mrs. Hockey Mom is gonna creep me out. I'm not saying that I'd rather see a mannequin of Sarah Palin hung in effigy. But with the exception of Tina Fey, I just would rather not see her bee-hived, bespectacled doppelgangers on my doorstep. Heck, I'm not even sure how I'll be able to tell this one apart from the uncostumed moms who are simply escorting their kids for trick or treating. But Mr. Joe the Plumber, creepy as he is to me, can stay. One of our toilets needs fixin'.
Well-meaning or not, Halloween isn't the day to explore other cultures through costume.
4. Ethnic Costumes (of other cultures). My mom meant well when she dressed me as an Indian Squaw one year. And I knew I was cute. But today, in this post-P.C. era, I'd feel a bit strange dressing any of my kids in the traditional attire of another culture, without an understanding of its symbolism or authenticity (not to mention how it will rub off on some people)—just for the sake of some free candy. I just can't help but think of how I might feel about a person of another race dressing their daughter as a "little black girl" for Halloween. This isn't an indictment of every school-age Geisha and Indian Brave, but perhaps their parents could use a timeout to think about the connotations. At the very least, a good talking to.
Adorable for Haiti's carnival, but hateful on Halloween.
5. Ethnic Costumes (of your own). Even when it's one's own culture, I'm a little wary of dressing kids in cultural clothing for Halloween, period. That's not to say I wouldn't allow one of my daughters to dress as Queen Nzinga or even Queen Latifah for that matter, black history can happen in October, too. But I'll never forget the poignant essay written by Karen Walrond, who swears she will never dress her child in ethnic attire for Halloween based on her own negative experience wearing a costume from her own Trinidadian culture. I can only imagine her mother's disgust upon realizing that she'd painstakingly slaved over her child's beautiful attire, only for her daughter to come home mortified, after having been asked by her classmate: "Who are you supposed to be? Aunt Jemima?"
Of course I'll be excited to whip out the Flip camera and make video footage of my little monsters this year. But I wish, just this once, I could be like the majority of minivan-driving mamas, wave a manicured hand in the air and shrug "It's just Halloween!" But I can't. Halloween in the age of Obama is much different than those of years past—when race, ethnicity and all of the baggage that comes with it weren't an ongoing topic of national discussion, at least not in the way it is now. So while I'm sorting through my kids' candy, and trying not to eat it, I'll do my best not to speculate about whether or not the costumes of Halloween '08 were any type of omen or harbinger of what will happen next Tuesday, Nov. 4. As in four—count them—days from now. Kind of scary, isn't it?
Meera Bowman-Johnson hands out candy in Houston, Texas.